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Q&A: Frank Thomalla on how science and technology can support the Sendai Framework

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Written by Marion Davis

Wednesday, 17 February 2016 06:07

SEI 2016 news QA Thomalla UNISDR conferenceFrank Thomalla explains SEI research on long-term disaster recovery at the UNISDR conference. Flickr / UNISDR

SEI is part of a global effort to better align disaster risk reduction research with policy and practice – the focus of a major conference in Geneva.

On 27–29 January, disaster risk reduction experts, policy-makers and practitioners from around the world gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) Science and Technology Conference on the Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030.

The Sendai Framework, approved last year, lays out a global agenda for disaster risk reduction (DRR). The conference focused on the role of science and technology in supporting that agenda. SEI was an organizing partner, and also presented posters on the SEI Initiative on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk, disability and DRR, long-term recovery after disasters, migration, flooding and ethnicity in Laos, and resilience-building in Europe.

Below, SEI Senior Research Fellow Frank Thomalla answers questions about the Geneva discussions, the new UNISDR Science & Technology Roadmap, and how it all connects to SEI’s work.

SEI 2016 news QA Thomalla UNISDR logoQ: Why did UNISDR organize this discussion, and what was the desired outcome?
FT: Deciding on a strategy how science and technology can support the implementation of the Sendai Framework is important because there is no scientific body supporting DRR efforts as, for example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) supports the global climate regime.

Research needs to be aligned with the aims of the Sendai Framework in order to address gaps and advance understanding of how to reduce the drivers of disaster risk and enhance resilience. The Science and Technology Partnership, launched at the conference, aims to enhance scientific and technical work on DRR by coordinating existing networks and scientific research institutions at all levels and all regions with the support of the UNISDR Scientific and Technical Advisory Group (STAG).

Q: You were a rapporteur for the discussions on “leveraging science through capacity development”. What can scientists do to better serve capacity-building needs?
FT: One key message was that scientific findings should be framed and presented in a concise and understandable fashion, and that assumptions and uncertainties need to be better clarified and communicated. We talked about the need to translate scientific findings into concrete actionable steps and tools for science-based decision-making.

Another issue that came out strongly is that there is too much of a focus on physical science, and we need to enhance the role of social science, to better understand the governance of disaster risks.

Q: What kinds of social science research were you envisioning?
FT: There was a push from some delegates to invest more strongly in research on the social, political and economic aspects of risk creation and response. That would not only shed light on the underlying causes of risk and vulnerability, but also help us understand the behaviour and decision-making of both people faced with disaster risks, and the organizations responsible for DRR. We also need to better understand the kinds of transformations in governance needed to build more equitable and resilient societies. I found it encouraging that several delegates called for placing development at the centre of DRR strategies, and identifying trade-offs in development choices and pathways.

SEI 2016 news QA Thomalla UNISDR conference 2A plenary session at the conference. Flickr / UNISDRQ: The goal of these discussions was to inform a Science & Technology Roadmap. When will that Roadmap be published, what do you expect it to do, and why is it important?
FT: A first draft of the Roadmap, shared before the conference, provided the basis for discussions. It is now being revised by UNISDR based on feedback and input received during the conference. It will be shared for a final open review at the end of February and finalized and endorsed by the end of March. Research organizations are invited to join the Scientific and Technical Partnership, and we are preparing our application.

UNISDR has said the Roadmap is expected to strengthen the evidence base in support of the implementation of the Sendai Framework by, among other things, promoting scientific research on disaster risk patterns, causes and effects; disseminating risk information with the best use of geospatial information technology; providing guidance on methodologies and standards for risk assessments, disaster risk modelling and the use of data; identifying research and technology gaps and recommending priorities for DRR research; and using post-disaster reviews as opportunities to enhance learning and public policy.

Q: How closely does this agenda align with the goals of SEI’s TDDR Initiative?
FT: I find that the aims of the TDDR initiative have a lot of resonance with the key messages of the conference. I feel encouraged that we have embarked on the right journey. Discussions during the poster sessions and meetings with prominent researchers and implementing organizations tell me that we’re asking the right kinds of questions.

Our effort is timely to support the implementation of the Sendai Framework and ultimately the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, and the conference provided an opportunity to further strengthen SEI’s links with UNISDR. Our ambition is for an SEI researcher to become an active member of the STAG, which is being enhanced to better address the needs of countries and stakeholders, and for SEI to join the global partnership of research organizations.

These roles would greatly enhance SEI’s profile in the DRR community and enable us to participate in the important scientific activities underpinning the implementation and assessment of the Sendai Framework over the next 15 years. Another positive outcome is a new connection with IRDR (Integrated Research for Disaster Risk), a 10-year research project that will connect SEI with a strong research network, key policy processes, and strategic funding opportunities.      


Learn more about the conference (external link)

See tweets from the conference »

Learn more about the SEI Initiative on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk » 

 

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